I recently had the chance to drive the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio, which is an SUV with a tremendously long name: 29 letters, eight syllables, four separate words. It’s a mess. "Stelvio Quadrifoglio" doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as smoothly as "X5M." But if you can get past the name, you’ll find that it’s one of the best performance SUVs ever made.
Yes, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is really, really good at being a performance SUV — something I discovered over the week I had a Stelvio, which I borrowed from Alfa Romeo. It’s fast, of course — that much is obvious the moment you look at the spec sheet. While the base-level Stelvio has a 280-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder, the Quadrifoglio has an amazing 505-hp turbocharged V6, on account of it being the "performance model." Zero-to-60 is something like 3.6 seconds, which is very quick for an SUV. The top speed is 177 miles per hour, and torque is 443 lb-ft. It’s fast.
But many SUVs are fast. The thing that really impressed me about the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is that it’s incredibly sharp in corners. There are four modes, indicated by a little dial in the center console that reads "D N A" — "D" for Dynamic, "N" for Natural, which is sort of a "normal" model, and "A" for All-Weather. There’s also a fourth mode, Race, which takes things a step beyond Dynamic. When you put the Quadrifoglio in either "Race" or "Dynamic," you’re in control of what is truly the sharpest SUV with the quickest handling of any SUV I’ve ever driven, period. I admit I haven’t yet driven the latest BMW X5M or the new Porsche Cayenne Turbo, neither of which are out yet — but I can’t imagine how it’d be possible to make an SUV sharper than this.
Really: The Stelvio Quadrifoglio feels like a Ford Focus RS, except somehow it’s lifted up and far heavier. I have no idea how they made it possible, but when you’re in Race or Dynamic, you could absolutely be convinced that you’re in a sports car: Ultra-sharp steering, incredible precision and a throttle that’s tremendously responsive to your input. I’ve never driven an SUV that felt so much like a hot hatchback — and I think if there’s really anyone out there who wants a performance SUV solely for its performance, your search should start and end with the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
Unfortunately, there’s a drawback to all this precision, handling and hot hatchery: the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is probably the roughest-riding SUV I’ve ever driven. Not in "Natural" mode, to be clear — there, it just feels like basically any other sporty crossover. But if you want the incredible handling, you have to take the punishing suspension that apparently accompanies it — and I don’t exaggerate when I say "punishing." The Stelvio Quadrifoglio, in Race mode, alerted me to pavement undulations I didn’t even know were present, and beat me up so thoroughly that I immediately turned off Race (and even Dynamic) after I had demonstrated the SUV’s handling capabilities to curious passengers. So, understand that the Stelvio delivers some of the best dynamics in the world, but they come at a price.
Beyond the performance, there are a few other noteworthy characteristics of the Stelvio. One is just how un-weird it is: This isn’t your typical old-school Italian car with strangely-placed buttons and switches; the Stelvio is almost excessively normal, with surprisingly few quirks worthy of mention. That means you won’t get confused while you operate it, but it also means you won’t find some delightful piece of technology nobody else has, or some exciting feature they’re just trying out. This thing breaks no new ground in that arena.
And then, we move back to the name. "Alfa Romeo" has little name recognition here in the United States, and "Stelvio" has even less. "Quadrifoglio," though difficult to say (pronounce it "Quad-rih-foe-lee-oh," and yes, it sounds like an office supply), is Alfa’s performance line — sort of like BMW M or Mercedes-AMG. Add it all together and tell someone what you’re driving, and you certainly won’t get the same impressed reaction you’d expect if you divulge your car of choice is a BMW X5M or a Mercedes-AMG GLS63.
But you do get a price break compared to the midsize performance luxury SUVs (the Alfa is around $85,000, compared to well over $100,000 for an X5M), and a power boost compared to the small ones (505 hp to the Macan Turbo’s 400). Consider everything and it’s an excellent all-rounder: Nice styling, excellent performance, well-priced and lots of power. It’s one of the great SUV driving experiences around — if you can handle the ride.